Celebrities get nasty over Gaza and Israel


Actor Javier Bardem, left, and Penelope Cruz arrive at the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Your average celebrity feud starts with a personal slight that escalates into a hashtag-laden Twitter battle and culminates with a late-night talk show appearance. But when celebs fight about Israel and the Palestinians, things can get really ugly. Recently, Hollywood had a lot to say about the conflict in the region — and much of it wasn’t very nice.

Bill Maher managed to simultaneously provoke women and the pro-Palestinian camp with this tweet: “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”

When TMZ asked Joan Rivers for her two cents at Los Angeles International Airport last month, she yelled, “They started it!” — meaning the Palestinians, according to the Hollywood Reporter: “When Rivers was told that Selena Gomez had posted an Instagram sympathetic to Gaza, Rivers said sarcastically, ‘Selena Gomez, that college grad.’ When Rivers heard Rihanna had tweeted #FreePalestine, Rivers said, ‘Can she even spell Palestine?’ ”

Perhaps the nastiest fracas was provoked by a letter published last month in Spanish newspapers signed by celebrity couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. It demanded a cease-fire and called on the European Union to condemn Israeli actions in Gaza that their letter described as “genocide.”

Cruz backtracked last Wednesday in a statement: “I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza.” Bardem said the letter was “meant as a plea for peace. … I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife — which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.”

On Saturday, Jon Voight was still mad. He accused Bardem and Cruz of inciting anti-Semitism in a letter published in the Hollywood Reporter. “They are obviously ignorant of the whole story of Israel’s birth,” he wrote. He chastised the pair for defaming “the only democratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel.”

Comedian Jackie Mason entered the fray on Sunday. Aaron Klein, a radio show host for the conservative news outlet WorldNetDaily, invited the 83-year-old Mason to comment on the “Hollywood geniuses inserting themselves into the debate” about the war, calling out Bardem and Cruz. In a pre-recorded interviewMason said Palestine’s celebrity sympathizers “come from these kinds of anti-Semitic, low-class backgrounds where a Jew is the most disgusting thing in the world to them.” He added: “They can’t read a paper … I don’t even think they can read their script.” Mason then trucked out a Jewish stereotype himself: “The ironic thing is that it’s Jewish people who own these Hollywood studios,” he said. “And they all hire these people and they depend on them for a living.”

On Monday, Relativity Media chief executive Ryan Kavanaugh became the first major Hollywood executive to weigh in. “It makes my blood boil,” Kavanaugh told The Hollywood Reporter. “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, anyone calling it Israeli ‘genocide’ vs. protecting themselves are either the most ignorant people about the situation and shouldn’t be commenting, or are truly anti-Semitic.” He also took aim at President Obama, saying: “What’s a real shame is our leader who is supposed to be the president of the armed forces isn’t leading and stepping in to help our biggest ally but instead is effectively suggesting a solution that ensures the eradication of Israel.”

Other celebs who supported Palestinians on social media include singer Zayn Malik, John Cusack, Mia Farrow, Mario Balotelli, Kerry Washington and Rob Schneider, according to Salon. Those who supported Israel include Howard Stern, Mark Pellegrino of “Lost” and “Dexter,” “Today Show” fitness correspondent Jeff Halevy and Omri Casspi, the former Houston Rockets player from Israel.

Some were wishy-washy. Actress and singer Selena Gomez, 22, Instagrammed: “It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza.” Then she clarified on Twitter that she wasn’t taking sides. According to the Hollywood Reporter, singer Rihanna tweeted #FreePalestine, then deleted it eight minutes later after thousands had retweeted it. NBA basketball player Dwight Howard also tweeted then deleted.

Madonna used hashtags and shirtless men with rock-hard abs to convey her message of peace. She celebrated Friday’s ill-fated cease-fire by posting a photo on Instagram of shirtless men holding hands, one with a Star of David painted on his chest, the other a crescent moon and star, a symbol of Islam. Caption: “Cease Fire ! Inshallah!!! Baruch Hashem!! Praise the Lord! #ceasefireforever #peaceinthemiddleeast #livingforlove.”

Chances are, everyone named above has a PR agent who’d rather they not take sides.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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